Book Launch: The Perfect Transport
Transportation science and engineering aren't exactly new subjects. We could perhaps claim that it started with the invention of the wheel, or perhaps another precursor mechanism for easing movement of heavy loads. There is still considerable debate about how various ancient artifacts were moved, such as the stones of Stonehenge or the blocks of the Pyramids.
While working at Transport for London, I frequently visited the London Transport Museum's library to further my knowledge around the business. The library full of very detailed books that have made remarkable progress in the development of Transport, but they don't cover a small subject area by any means.
Research and Innovations in Physics, Chemistry, Psychology, Computer Science, Engineering, and many other subjects all have had an impact on the development of transportation systems. The more recent revolutions in computing powers and now the growth of capable artificial intelligence have already been used in parts of Transport systems, but the potential for their usage is much greater.
I was quite surprised that despite the huge wealth of knowledge and fast paced development in Transport related areas, the scientific aspects of Transport systems have not been hugely popularised. The multitude of scientific books on Transport can have a steep learning curve, but there is also a wealth of Journals that are readable without much prior knowledge. However, if I was asked which book would be a good introduction to Transportation Science, I couldn't easily name one. Perhaps Rob Eastaway's and Jeremy Wyndham's excellent book Why Do Buses Come in Threes would be a good start, but Transport is only one small part there of a book that primarily covers Applied Mathematics. There are of course many books about Transport, Transport in London, Buses, Trains, Cars of all sorts and so on, but they rarely cover the more abstract domain of research and study of Transportation as a science.
My new book The Perfect Transport aims to fill this gap and to try and make people aware of the huge amount of intellectual labour that goes into the development of Urban Transport. I am hoping to also encourage bright newcomers into this field where they can truly make an impact on a vast amount of people. Last of all, my aim was to try to present the difficult truths about why progress in Transport can be slow and daunting. Let it be said that I didn't mean to discourage anyone. Knowing about the issues holding us back must surely be the precursor to solving them. I hope to see the next generations of Transport workers solving many of these issues, and I am confident they will do so.
What's inside the book? The book is split into 5 sections. The first addresses the question of why trains are so slow and how much faster we could actually get them. Could they be replaced with roller-coaster-like super fast carriages? Ultimately, those who would be interested in increasing efficiency in trains so that they can get them quicker to their destination will ultimately redesign the private car, which is often the quickest way to get between two points (although not always... over long distances trains, and then planes will be much quicker).
The second section looks into some traffic theory and starts introducing a variety of paradoxes based on Game Theory analysis of traffic. The choices made when improving road networks are presented. The section ultimately leads to showing that urban roads can eventually only become more efficient by increasing density of people in vehicles, such as with buses.
Thirdly, there is a section looking into issues with buses, bus scheduling, and other bus-related things. There is a bit of discussion around whether Transport authorities should care about the statistical many, or the individual journeys of the few. Should buses regulate their service to improve the experience of a larger group of passengers by delaying those already on a bus? The inverse scenario seen in flight operations is also discussed. Flight operators are happy to delay the journeys of many to avoid the fines they receive from delaying a single flight more dramatically. Is there a sweet spot between the two of these?
The fourth section goes into a bit more details of traffic management. Transport networks are not static. Their dynamic nature creates all sorts of phenomena that are only visible by seeing a wider image picture. Perhaps some of these problems will be more easily solved through the use of very clever AIs. But this is a very optimistic view that may be comparable to an alchemist's belief that she will solve her problems by finding the Philosopher's stone.
The final section discusses Urban planning and wider Transport policy decisions. A lot of these are made with very simple metrics in mind without any consideration of what the side effects will be. Urban populations don't necessarily respond to policy changes in the way that is expected, and some problems arise due to reasons no-one could possibly have foreseen when solving a previous issue. Mostly this section contains all the things I couldn't easily categorise into the first four sections.
The book should be accessible to any typical reader. I have included a handful of equations, but it is not necessary to understand them - one can simply admire their funky shape on the page and move on. They won't lose out on much. They will see that there are some complexities in Transportation Science. Those with mathematical backgrounds may understand the equations, but they will note that there are indeed complexities arising from the messiness that comes from applied sciences that no longer function as they would do in isolated Physics experiments. Either way, I didn't want to act condescendingly to the readers by assuming they might not be able to understand some of the concepts. If they fail to grasp the ideas, the fault is my own and I hope I can remedy them through future interactions. If an interest arises from this project, that is success in itself and it should be nurtured.
I hope you all enjoy the read, or that the book at least looks nice on your shelf.